The Ribbon Intrinsic

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

The Ribbon Intrinsic

Postby Boris » Sat Mar 05, 2011 10:17 pm

The Ribbon Intrinsic

Icarus Outpost, Fromelt Mine Complex, Shroud
20:48 Local time


The outpost, despite its heating arrangement, was cold. How the miners had survived under Imperial rule was testimony to their toughness. How they did under the separatists was a miracle. It seemed complete anarchy had taken over, between the week and more of losing the spaceport, the rebels had shifted to their holes in the northern sector of the mines and even further through the crystal forests to another port. They were running for their lives, simply.

Sergeant Mannock stretched his back again, hearing it click and reached down for his lasgun. It was habitually cleaned daily. Earlier had been his squads’ sentry duty, a three hour stint in small boxes with hexi-heaters to watch for any oncoming rebels thinking of becoming martyrs. He smoothed back his hair making a ‘tut’ at how long and thick it was. He’d have to see the non-combatant entourage when they returned. His green eyes flitted here and there searching for dust, snow and dirt that bred on the metal.

From the opposing end of the small canteen, Curtis smiled at her squad leaders habits. For whatever reason, she’d come to see him as a second father, maybe it was the way he kept her safe, maybe it was the way he spoke to her like he spoke to the rest of them; like an adult, like a soldier. Not some blond haired girl straight from the founding fields. Her own lasgun had frozen earlier, the powercell hadn’t removed and even the barrel seemed to be brittle. Had she had fired it, she was told, it would have fractured the barrel. As such the armourers were servicing it, she had a ticket with some hasty scrawl on to go back in half an hour.

“Goz!” Curtis hollered to her sleeping companion on another desk. “Goslin!”

An ‘eurgh’ sounded as he woke up slowly, raising his head and scraping down his blond locks; “Wha..?” was all he could manage.

“You’re snoring again. Its echoing.” it was true, it had been.

“I don’t snore, Dinky. Not that much…” he settled down again on his beret.

She gave up and leant back, kicking her feet up onto the metal table. Her hands were dry again; it seemed no matter how much glycerine cream she put on, they always were in the cold. Her cheeks were also chapped and ruddy. She often cursed what this planet did to her looks.

Others were milling about, either being served what stew was left or in the armoury, servicing their lasguns. Plenty had frozen and some, like Warner and Broninsk, merely went to keep the Munitorum boys company. Palphrymand returned with his lasgun intact and a mess tin of stew. He seemed to be the only man so far to like it.

“Shift up lass. Gotta eat y’know.” he still limped from his las-wound Kramus had patched up, it was only slight, but he made it look like he was a recruit compensating for blisters.

“Looks very appetising, Granddad, does it taste of anything?” her sarcasm never failed to make him laugh.

“Probably not.” said Grest as he scraped back a chair and set his own tin down. “Grubs up, get it while it’s hot.”

Grest was still making her wary as he sat with grenades simply attached to his belt kit with their pins. Her eyes returned to their skull and she moved away hastily, nearly taking out Granddad in the process.

“All here?” a flurry of voices was making its way into the canteen; all of the squad, and now the platoon [Fourth Platoon, First Company] were filing in.

Lieutenant Osc stood with his clipboard as the men scraped back chairs and took a seat. Nods went round, hands shook and even wake up calls were provided. They were a close knit bunch mainly, able to work as a squad any time, all the time. He ticked several boxes and counted, his lips moving on his youthful face.

“Warner? Broninsk? Kramus? Anyone seen them?” the question went out to the room, most giving blank faces.

“Kramus is with the medical orderlies, sir. The other pair at the armoury both needed urgent weapon services.” Mannock stood up and snapped the pins on his lasgun to.

The platoon commander sighed, knowing he wouldn’t win. Mannock was right, but to admit so was not something the officers’ academy taught. He slapped the board on the nearest table and clasped his hands behind his back.

“Evening gentlemen…and lady. Tonight, fourth platoon, first company, thirty third Karrozian has these orders. We are on over-watch.” a number of ‘yeses’ went up, some reclined and others lit up bac-sticks knowing they had the easy tasking for tonight; sitting on their backsides. “Fourth squad will remain in here after. Overwatch will consist of two squads per outpost, staggered one hour shifts; usual format. Route cards have been drawn up by squad leaders and placed at the posts, do not forget to read them, I’m not having an incident of friendly fire on our watch. Lists have also been posted next to the route cards. Again, read those. Normal fighting order, additional cold weather gear is to the squad leaders’ discretion. I would suggest you all wear it,” he paused watching their faces. “questions?”

Kramus had appeared at the back of the room, his arms crossed and his dark features staring at the ceiling. It was his question pose. Broninsk, their red eyed, cold blooded ‘knife-fighting-guy’ wanted to laugh, it always amused him how deadly Kramus could appear one minute, then act as if nothing had gone on.

“What are we doing then, sir?” the emphasis on ‘we’ made his squad look in the platoon commanders direction.

Osc sighed, slid his beret off and smoothed his curly black hair back.

“Squad leaders, dismiss the men; Fifth squad, with me.”

If it was going to be another briefing with the Colonel, Grest told himself, he’d let one of his grenades go. He was sick of ‘hush-hush’ work; that was for Guard Intelligence, not infanteers. That the big armed, small brained man had voiced this to Osc, hadn’t improved the situation further. He was simply told it was orders, and orders, were orders.

The control room contained another flurry of men, women and servitor maintained consoles, ranging from logic engines to full blown tactical map plates stood of screen, updated with control wands from adepts and officers. It showed the current force disposition, who, what, when, where.

The Colonel looked even older than he had last time they’d seen him. Grey was starting to cover his entire head and his figure was thinning. He stood in his greatcoat bearing flashes of the thirty-second, his old regiment, looking more like a decrepit General. His weak smile and glint in his eye told Mannock the ‘Old Boy’ still had it him. He gestured to another tactical map plate in the far corner, leaving the business of complete logistical and tactical control to those adepts in jet black, tight fitting body gloves. Lastly he nodded at Osc, who slipped out with a sheepish look on his face. He’d been hoping to earn some glory partaking in the raid.

“I would apologise usually for the inconvenience Mannock, as the situation grants, I do not. You’re needed. For three weeks the initial invasion force has done all we can to prevent this. It cannot. We can’t even ship in units that could do this off the cuff. Now, please sit.” Hansk gathered up a control wand and clicked a couple of buttons before finding the correct setting. His annoyance was visible.

Two maps stood side by side, one large scale, one small. It was the target zone, as it were. Hansk coughed roughly, bending over and sipped at his tea he’d been carrying around. Shroud had played hell with his chest and fitness, it seemed to seep energy from everything, powercells, engines, people.

“This mission will be somewhat different to others. We are asking much more of you than any other squad in this regiment. However there is no time to explain or indeed refresh you on certain particulars. The ground, you already know. What you will not know, are the crystal forests. They are betwen your landing zone and your target. It’s the smallest route through that we have scouted. Put simply, they’re quartz, they absorb all noise and thus cause confusion and disorientation. When traversing them, stick together; I cannot stress that enough.” Hansk circled the ‘forest’ with a las-pointer, indeed on both maps, whilst looking huge, it was the narrowest route.

“The situation; as you know, the rebels are retreating and in some cases scattering. Others are giving themselves up and accepting the Emperor’s Judgement. This target, a plasma generator, is routing power to the south eastern spaceport and the bastion north of the Icecade ruins. Should these be in power much longer, it will give the seperatists much more resources and man power shipped in from the Hive. Knock them out, and we have near half of the habitable part of this miserable iceball in our hands. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can get home.”

All nodded, Lister kissed a small locket about his neck pursed between grubby fingers.

“Your mission – disable and destroy the plasma generator, designation ‘L/66A1’.” he pasued, looking up from a clipboard filled with random scribbles and detailed notes on Guard issue paper. “To disable and destory the plasma generator, designation ‘L/66A1’.”

“The execution of this mission will be as follows. You will drop in at the landing zone, on foot make your way through the forest and into the generatoruim. You will meet a contact aiding your route into and then out of there. Once in there, you are to use the issue tube charges, plant them and set them to a rig for ten minutes, that should give you enough time to get into the forest, or at least near the quartz. Reminder that you will lose vox-contact with one another once in, so again, I advise you to keep together.” Kramus was looking uncomfortable at this, his logic was working through it, seeing many loop-holes. “Once through, you are to make your way, on foot, to waypoint thirteen. Understood?”

It was a simple premise, but it was obvious to all that many things could turn on their heads given the chance. Palphrymand was too busy scribbling down the maps to notice and worries had by others, knowing the crystal would no doubt play merry hell with compasses.

“Timings, you will depart at 22:00 after that, you have two hours. It should suffice. From your landing, you have two hours to get in, rig the tube charges and get back. If you are not back, the artillery will simply have to be brutal. Actions on enemy prescence; infiltration, sweep and clear routines. You will therefore have a fighting retreat. If in doubt, move forwards, the same applies to casualties and seperation. You will, this time, be in full fighting order, see the armourer for your additional gear. You will meet the lander at 21:30. Questions?”

Mannock refrained from his comment as to who decided the timings. He knew it wasn’t Hansk, it was no doubt some war deprived General in need a of fireworks display.

Hansk saw their faces, all pale, tired and no doubt wary. This was nothing they had faced before. Contacts? Who in His name where they? Inquisitor-had-beens no doubt with a want for fighting and scavving. What had he meant about ‘other units? Storm Troopers? Penal Legions? Whoever the hell it was, they were being landed with their job. Just what they needed.

“Dismissed.” the word was hollow, empty, as if the Colonel himself saw no belief in them.

***

Kramus felt like everything was only half explained, no diagnostics had been given out, no inside knowledge; nothing. This business with the lander only made them more uncomfortable. A drop zone. This was something the legendary Harakoni Warhawks or Elysian’s did. Still, they’d done the training back home, for good reason. It just felt like too long ago, he’d have to remember the karabiner setup, the jumping arrangements. Soon he gave up thinking as he began an inspection of his repaired lasgun.

Mannock didn’t see any real reason to get them talking, they were focussed and readied for the fight. They merely had to hope the lander could stick them to the floor for a second or two. He wrapped his personal vox around his head, the bulky and annoying thing seemingly dangling on elastic straps. He hadn’t trusted them since he’d first used them, but knew if there was any chance of keeping contact, he’d have to use it.

Goslin looked more like himself, his webbing bearing an extra lump on his back as he carried a vox-set. Twiddling with the dials, he could hear everyone in the armoury, muttering to themselves, whispering prayers or merely breathing. He could hear Dinky’s voice murmuring a prayer to their home saint, Karaztika. He joined in, before realising he was transmitting it through all their headsets. He smiled jovially, before carrying on with packing up his set and re-adjusting his webbing.

The not particularly pious Lister, was for the first time in a long time, praying that he’d make it back. He had little reason to go back home. The mine shift had been conscripted, his wife had died within the first few weeks of him being on the founding fields and his son had been involved in a cave in. It had buried him alive. Something was calling him back though, it was no divine spirit or purpose, just human desire.

His flamer ‘Mister Yellow’ was being dulled with matt polish and its canisters were in bulky pouches where his lasgun cells would have been. It was a ‘carbine’ pattern, one seen used by Space Marine, Catachans. It was easier to carry and proved less of an obstacle, it was also suited to drops such as this one. He patted the weapon and painted another white numeral on its casing.

The armourer dressed in simple Munitorum coveralls had quickly refreshed them on using the tube charges, a quick strip of det-tape and the device would blow. Connecting them together would be a feat, using a length of wire to each detonating ‘patch’ and peeling enough tape to give them enough time. Grest thought he had it all under control, he hoped.

Palphrymand, still slightly limping from the week before, was doing his customary check of everything he had on him, that it was in the correct pouch and that everything could be found in pitch black – it was simply second nature. His lasgun was proudly displaying its new coat of primer and a new stock, the foldable one having replaced the old one after an ‘accident’ on the last sentry duty.

“Twenty-one-twenty-five people, lets move.” it was Osrin, clean shaven for once, he looked odd without his ‘gentlemanly’ moustache.

None disagreed, hauling their stuff up, slinging weapons and thudding like a squad of Marines to the landing bay. Inside one fo the few Valkyries sat, it’s engines in a low whine and pilot and naviagtor mooching about, helmets slack and looks of grim determination on their seemingly youthful faces.

“Sergeant Mannock? Flight Lieutenant Jannen Gant. Jannen to you, I heard what you pulled off a while back. A feat of...well a feat in itself.” the first man shook Mannock’s hand sharply, his head a sharp sliver on high shoulders, completed with the ever typical slicked back hair. “My number two is Sergeant Gal Ferkin. Gal to you.”

It seemed to put them at ease, knowing they were your average ‘Navy’ rimshards who gave little thought to footsloggers. They hadn’t noticed the ‘Guard’ emblem stitched to their flight suits.

“Guard eh? Who has flying Guard?” Lister was genuinely interested.

“Elysia. Breeds ‘em well.” at this them pair grinned, they were the ‘real’ drop infantry deal; Jannen ushered them over to the rear ramp showing the rapelling set up.

He hooked up an empty webbing set and held the ropes accordingly; “Hold above and below you. Let go, then grip, let go, then grip. Gravity will do the rest. Just hook up through your belt, couldn’t be simpler. But y’know what they say about Guardsmen.”

A laugh would have rung out, had the circumstances not been so nerve racking.

“Ready?” Mannock turned to his men and woman; they nodded.

Boarding couldn’t have been harder, gear cramped the bay, flatulence of previous sitters was let loose and the netting keeping them in clung in the wrong places and was equally annoying loose in the wrong places. Apart from that, Warner had to note, it was fine, he’d not been comfier. Curtis was about to mutter about his oddness, before realising the comms net was still active. It was the only way to hear the pilots.

The engines howled like banshee’s in heat and Broninsk, usually the coolest of the squad, was unnerved. He never did like flying. Ever. Still he, had to face the horrors some day. He flicked his red eyes about his own gear, finding his prized ‘stick’ at last. Her name was Trixie and she was as kinky as her name suggested. Twenty centimetres of hollow steel, half filled with mercury with several parts; blood channels, rib splitters, rope cutter and a serrated section at it’s curved top. All in all a Catachan’s dream, had it not been made by an illegal gun runner back home. Skin had seen it one time on leave and being a man of his calling, couldn’t leave ‘her’. Oddly enough, it soothed him.

Osrin, constantly scratching at his bare lip caused silent giggles from Curtis. He already missed the facial ‘company’, but it was a thing he did, he kept it until another ‘Do or Die’ run came up. It had generally been back home, on the founding fields between live firing exercises and even bayonet practise. Especically after seeing DeVere ‘poked’ in the chest by one. The entire blade had popped a lung and caused the entire platoon to stand in horror. He was simply fixed and transferred for logistical reasons. Something about ‘Back-Squadding’.

“Lady and Gentlemen, hold tight, keep your appendages inside the aircraft at all times. ETA; 21:57.”

No one replied. All prayed.

***

From the rear of the cruising Valkyrie, the sky and the land even looked oddly romantic, the glum blue mixed with pink from the setting second sun, it was soon reverted back as comms channels began to fizz with static and echoing booms could be heard in the distance. Lister damned it all, he was beginning to wonder why it was always him and his squad picked for these ‘things’, never anyone else. He could find no satisfying reason. All conflicted with one another and made no sense. It just was, he surmised.

The twelve or so miles had taken them longer than expected, warnings of patrolling seperatists had caused evasive action and even an anti-air siren had gone off, the rebels had no fighters, as far as it was known, it didnt stop Jannen whipping the “Ol’ Gal” around, autocannon’s humming. It had, however, broken the monotony and the waiting, it had provided some distraction. Before the bird seemed to halt mid-air and directed it’s engine nozzles towards the wasteland.

A green light flashed up, they hooked up on the bars running down either side of the ramp, the full length of the cargo bay, like a static line, it meant none had to waste time and the lines could merely be removed at one end and re-issed back ‘home’.

Kramus was the first out, his face nearly betrayed fear, before he gave a look of disgust at the ground, gripped the rope in gloved hands and began to let himself go. Mannock directed them through the howling engines, indicating their defensive positions once them were grounded.

Surprisingly, it was quick, as it should have been. It seemed to take an age, judging when to next go so as to not clatter one another, or to twist lines up. No one said anything as Goslin encouraged Curtis to jump, doing as most would telling her to look at him and not the ground. She hit the ground in a lump, cursing that she’d never jump again so long as she lived.

“We’re down Jannen. Good luck.” Mannock put his hand to his ear piece in an effort to hear the pilot.

“Good hunting Mannock.” the flyboy almost sounded jealous at their job.

All seemed eeriely quiet as the Valkyrie shifted around the wastes, no doubt reacting to the threats that had seen it. Palprhymand orientated his hastily scribbled map, marking their DZ. Mannock nodded, his route proved and issued hand signals for them to spread out in a staggered pattern. He wasn’t wanting the enemy or indeed this ‘contact’ to come up on all of them at once.

Warner took point, his lasgun held like a child in his arms almost, his head up high and eyes bright. The crystal forests drew nearer, great hulking blocks of quartz clear, blue and even green in the light, nothing would have been heard of their drop by theit target, they’d have no doubt thought it their own fliers. It gave Mannock’s squad the element of surprise, so long as they didn’t get lost in the looming rock formation.

“Warner, halt ten or so metres in front of our entrance, I want all present when we enter.”

A squelch over the network showed he understood.

Everything seemed so damned loud, kit seemed to be clanging like metal armour, slings catching on pouches and even their footsteps sounding like an approaching Squiggoth herd. Lister wondered if it was the rock making it echo, he knew little of anything like science but had an inkling for things he could fix with his hands. His flamer was strapped across his back, muzzle sticking out like a cancer on his right side. It meant he could move very little at his shoulders, but found it better than lugging the thing about when it would not doubt be useless if they were attacked now. Instead he had his issued laspistol in hand. Somehow he’d become attached to it since having to use it properly finding Karravitz. He mused that even if they coule take cover, they’d be seen in the dying light, nothing else was black legged and with a multi-coloured torso.

Daydreams had taken Lister to the formation in seconds it seemed, all were knelt in herringbone, Warner watching their front, every one man watching left or right and the last man covering their rears. Mannock had planned the route and the formations prior, running it through with the squad in the hangar, yet now it seemed he’d have to change his plan. There was nothing compared to seeing the real thing. They were truly vast, nothing could be heard amongst them, he guessed an entire tank company could be in there and not be heard.

Light was low visibility getting worse as the wind began and snow was tussled up in the air. He damned himself, they’d have to go in holding one another’s shoulders no doubt, the way back, well...they’d no doubt be compromised and be using lamps by then.

“Hold on to one another. Do no let go.” his tone showed his mood, he was not impressed. Trust high command to give them a night mission to go through a damned rock.

Shuffling through the snow, clinging to one another, it looked like a line of blind men than an operating squad of infanteers. The sky seemed to fall away as quartz literally shrouded them in darkness, the stars blotted out and sun all but car. Goslin’s hand was white knuckled around Curtis’ belt, Broninsk however seemed to revel in it, something in his brain found it almost comforting.

Static hissing announced the loss of comm’s in the cave like range and soon even the sound of their own breathing was merely absorbed and all still gripped onto one another, Warner’s sense of direction found several partings in the rock, the red light of his ‘L’ torch picking out Palphrymand’s scrawls. Even the light from the bulb seemed trifle, it was doing little to illuminate the map. Lamp packs had been issued, of course, but they wanted to be as stealthy as possibly, emerging from the ‘forests’, lamps blaring did little in the way of hiding their prescence.

They passed back a tap to the leg, telling each other they were moving. In the ‘outside’ the noise of clattering lasguns, crunching boots and even curses would have done nothing to aid them, yet here it was nothing. Warner glanced up, sweeping his eyes across and above, checking for anything the seperatists may have left in their wake. Nothing so far, the path was too wide, big enough to get a Russ down comfortably.

Several curses went unheard as hands parted from belts, some walked before halting and picking their buddies back up. Elementary mistakes were being made, they weren’t complacent, or claustrophobic, what the hell was it? Nerves? Grest had to admit he was, there was something about the dark he didn’t agree with. It was unnatural, things scuttled against their legs, scratches came from spikes of rock leaning to and fro, damn it he’d have a bunch of scars from doing nothing more than walking.

Noise began to filter through, slowly at first, like hearing it under water. Eventually they could hear their own breathing, see their own hands and before they could see the generatorium, they split into their staggered file, weapons prone and readied. Another foreign noise caught Broninsk’s attention. No one was moving all checking their gear and one another, yet he could hear boots scraping, the clatter of kit on a belt. It was near their exit point. He skulked forwards, his lasgun slung over his back, knife in hand. He gave the hand signal for Mannock to halt, putting his finger to his lips at the others.

Padding to the right hand edge of the ‘entrance’, Broninsk, clung to the wall like a shadow, putting equal weight on his feet and letting his hand relax around the blades grip. He could hear the sentries breath, the muttering about the cold and the small tapping of boots as they tried to keep their feet warm. Broninsk flung a stone, catching their attention, immediately grabbing them one hand on their mouth, the other around their neck and shunted them against the rock.

He hadn’t forgotten they were meeting a contact, it was a simple fifty-fifty shot of it being them. They were resisting, trying to wriggle and kick out, doing little as they struggled to breath. Their eyes widened as Broninsk brought his blade into their vision.

“You’re a poor contact.” the soldiers style of greeting people had always been an issue with the training staff back home, yet it worked. It seemed to be simple reactions. If they were the enemy, they would have stopped struggling when he talked, not when they saw the blade.

The hooded shape nodded, trying to breathe easily again after being crushed against the wall by the sinewy streak of meat Broninsk was.

“It...it would help if...you weren’t so damn forceful...” Mia pulled her hood down, letting the light drifting from the generator post a hundred or so metres away reveal her. She held up a finger to him, she was still trying to breath.

“Back in formation Skin, well done.” Mannock emerged from the gloom, his lasgun trailed, half crouched, looking at the sketch map again. “Good evening Miss...?”

“Mia will do, Sergeant.” she was dressed in the enemies uniform, still carrying an Imperial pass card. Guard Intelligence had gathered some gems from such locals turned soldiers.

Mannock nodded looking up from the scraggy piece of paper. “So, the score?”

“A platoon’s worth, mainly locals turned freedom fighters, not much of a fight. If I can kill them, anyone can. Thirty men, all armed with autoguns, a pair of heavy autoguns thirty cal’s, nothing too cumbersome. They’ll no be asleep most of them. They change shifts in...thirteen minutes time. If you can catch them, you’ll be in mid-swap, confuse them and be able to remove most of them with a firestorm. I’m sure your knife fighter could deal with the sleepers. Other than that, it’s what you man told you.” her nonchalant report contrasted to the last time they’d seen her, Imperial training whilst merciless was something to behold, that included the sight of an autopistol on her belt, it’s magazine sticking out her waistband.

“You not joining us for the fun? We can’t take on that many men and do our job. I agree a ‘prisoner’ sighting would be as believeable as a romantic commissar, but anything’s better than a kick where it stings.” Mannock gave the signal to shift up, the squad lay prone, watching the figures in the distance mill about.

“As a matter of fact, Mister Hansk ran that by me. I questioned the boss, it’s possible. But you’d be better getting in and out. They think I’m trying to listen into Imperial frequencies. None know much about vox, so they don’t know I won’t hear a thing. Sorry Sarge, good luck.” Mia held her delicate hand showing her sincerity.

Mannock took it, smiled lightly and planned his next step; a distraction.

“Grest. Take half of the tubes and ready them. We need a distraction. I’m not using any of you for it, I want all of you in that complex sweeping and clearing it, we can bottle them, make an easy job of them.”

They moved up, Mia nodding to each, until seeing Osrin where she touched her top lip and smiled like a toddler. It relieved her to see them all alive, rescuing her was something they didn’t need to do, but had done. Mia had given them a week or so more as a ‘complete’ unit before something terrible happened. They were a tough bunch, but surely not Marines.

She picked up the vox-set, flicked the freuency back to ‘home’ and put it to her lips.

“Activity, west entrance, say again, activity, west entrance. Imperial troops.”

***

Grest’s bomb was simple, a pair of tube charges with a length of det-tape, timed for two minutes, it should give them enough time to sprint round their designated entrance and get on with the job.

The fact it had been done half moving, had added to the rugged, if ugly look of the device, Grest found it an insult to pyrotechnics. But if it worked, who cared. All approached, half crouched, using the lumps of snow and ice to hide behind before shifting forwards again. It was a wonder they hadn’t been seen yet, they were fifty metres and gaining. Then the call went out, men were kicked out of beds, put into motley squads and directed to one edge of the complex, a firestep on the perimeter of the triangular base. Tunnels, like scrumball dugouts where their entry ways, one at each corner, the rest was a rough block of plating and Machnicus shrines, each used to inspect the working generator.

Mannock slid down, cursing the woman. She’d betrayed them, surely. The damned woman had used her charm to get comfy in the Guard and then waltz back, blaming the whole incident on a crack PDF section being held there. He’d find her, damn it he would.

“Grest, take the bomb round to wherever they’re not looking and set it off, they’re looking right at us!” he hissed.

Lister further on, shook his head, as did Osrin sat next to him; “ Sergeant, they’re this,” he indicated to the right. “side.”

“Damn that woman!” Mannock hissed again. “take it westwards, convince them there’s activity, shout a few orders, make it sound sloppy.”

Grest nodded shuffled back and began to crawl on his hands and knees through the icy wastes. Cold wasn’t the word, he could no longer feel his knees and he wasn’t at his postion yet. Lying on his back, he ripped off the tape and lobbed the tubes as far as they would go, not far enough.

The resulting explosion and fake rantings from him, half heard in the enusing movement and confusion gave the enemy the impression there really was a lax platoon in the ice. Bullets whipped through the air, puffs of melting snow and ice went up and Grest ducked like he never had, trying not to get his appendages removed.

Kramus, Broninsk and Goslin were already moving when they heard the bang. The entry way was bare, a small desk devoid of its previous porno-reading man. All had set their lasguns to full auto, remembering the plan of the small barracks, they threw open doors [staggered on both the left and right], guns set into their hips to absorb the kick. Accuracy wasn’t a problem, but to use grenades would surely bring the freedom fighters back. Even the room states showed they cared little and had no doubt been dragged in from perhaps the prison held in the Hive.

The Adeptus Mechanicus, always one for logic, seemed to have failed. The control panel to the whole damned thing was bare, open and ripe for even a primevil powder charge.

Mannock had Grest get to his work and Warner sit with him, the quasi-sharpshooter put his back to one of the walls, digging his elbows into his knees and bracing legs. Curtis almost slid across the floor, landing with an “Uft!” as it took the wind from her, she lay prone to one side of the entry way, lasgun set to semi-automatic. Osrin, ever one for style, had fixed his bayonet and stood readied, lasgun in his shoulder at low port, muzzle trailing to the floor. Broninsk, Goslin, Kramus, Lister and Palphrymand began their room raids on the other two tunnels. The stair ways leading to the firesteps set above the tunnels were simply stamped metal, only big enough to fit single file through.

How thirty men had manged to fit up there is such a short time was a miracle, or it was, until Kramus found more or less a squad in their bunks, quarrelling as to whether it was a true alert or not. Their faces fell, one let his bowels go. In their terror, they hand’t seen the solitary grenade the medic had bowled in. Pulling the door against them, he heard the crump and slaps of wet meat hitting the walls. There was no screaming, no gurgling. Nothing. Lister had put his laspistol under the chin of another man found smoking outside, he had tried a move to break the shaggy mans arm which failed, flooring himself and resulting in him being very dead. Another two were incapacitated in another room, the scent of obscura putting a smile on Goslin’s face.

That left twenty or so men. Depending on their mood, their ability and whether they were high or not. Scurrying back, their comrades still in their positions, the raiders pricked up their ears. Men were moving, moving quickly. A straight firefight was madness. Grest had already suggested a chain reaction. A grenade tripping the remaining tube charges. It would have to do.

Lister had already unclipped Mister Yellow, aiming it roughly up the westwards walking, the direction of the scrambling, arguing and half drunken idiots. Two saw the muzzle, before bursting into flames and toppling, screaming down the scares. Lister merely sidestepped them, pouring on more of the liquid promethium.

“Enough, let’s move! Pair’s fire and move!” Mannock barked, setting his lasgun to its default setting, reloading.

They shifted back into their positions, one by one, Lister adding a can to Mister Yellow. Reloads were done for those that needed, gear was patted down, berets checked that they were still on. Las-fire met solid rounds as blind fire came down the walkway, followed by the bravest or stupidest men. In two’s the squad swept round on each other, firing beside one another, hoping to exit the way they had come in. The small walkway, the amount of men and the conditions made it almost impossible to hit anything, the enemy were backing up. Kramus had an idea they’d shift round and ambush them from another side.

“Move out, now! Run in pairs! They’ll come around!” the medic trailed his lasgun and sprinted down the entry tunnel, urging his comrades on as boot thuds came closer to another walkway stamped into the wall.

Incoming rounds spanked the metal work, catching Osrin’s shin, tripping him up; his cursing was drowned out by a burst of las as the culprit was shredded by a hail of bolts as he dropped down the stairwell. Another fought with Goslin, using the signallers own weight against him, the vox set putting him off balance, the fixed bayonet missed his open palm, slicing left and gouging into his bicep. The blade was torn out roughly, Goslin could do little other than scream, hang his arm useless and attempt to put the man off killing him. A whip crack took him by surprise and his nemesis fell dead; Warner smiled. Goslin hit the floor, his arm palpitating and blood pouring. Kramus hauled him back by his webbing, elevating the limb and bandaging it. The signaller could feel little, but certainly felt the morphia capsule needle. It reminded him that he was alive. The last man to hit the ground boots first was pinned to the wall by another of the sharpshooters bolts. That left...seventeen. no sixteen; another chanced the walkway, Warner again finding his mark and scurrying back, hunchbacked.

“Kramus, walk him out of here, Palphrymand, on me!” Mannock had the squad in all round defence at the tunnel entrance, Grest in the centre fidding with some grenades and a wire. “With me, we set this, Grest, get them back out of here, head for the forest. Grab her too.” he pointed towards the solitary figure they’d met earlier.

There was a noise they hadn’t heard before, the reason everything had been silent of weapons fire for a moment or two. Vehicles. Some sort of vehicles. From the far end of the complex, Curtis saw eight of them with small side cars, two men in each. Bikes; they had attack bikes, or certainly imitation ones.

“Move back, fireteam order! Go!” Grest barked, loosing a smoke grenade hoping to buy some time for their wounded man, there was no chance in hell he could be carried.

Their progress was seemingly slow, rounds seemed to buzz slowly through the air, las took ages to spark and words were slurred. Either that or Grest had been too close to the generator when the munitions went off. The result was not much more than a charred mess, energy coursed down the metalwork, sparked off and scurrying rodents, frying them. Palphrymand had seen several generators do this down the mines. It was only going to get worse, much worse. Their trap sprung, the squad move back again, outside the thing mesh fence serving as a gate. The thin wire was hidden to all but them, and still they shifted away from it, sweat caked them, water from melting ice chilled them and the general conditions in their kit were varied and horrendous.

Goslin seemed to be fading in and out of conciousness, his bandage, tight as it was, was doing little to staunch the flow and soon Kramus would have to add a second, it was like being drunk, but a bad drunk. He could feel the medics hand on his combat smock, feel him directing him, hear him directing him. But they couldn’t carry him, too much gear, too much weight. Their fight to the crystal forest had worn them out already, Curtis was ruddy faced and even their albino Broninsk showed signs of colour in his high cheeks.

The first two bikes hit the wire, their tyres snapping it and the grenades blasting the right hand side bike into its counterpart, shrapnel and detritus causing a steel rain. The four men were last seen as smouldering lumps of meat in the melting ice. The remainders were lucky enough, until another ploughed into and over the wreckage, it’s rider and passenger bloodied and broken no doubt. They had little choice but to fight them on their terms, driving them into the crystal forest. Their speed aided them little, their tyres slid, there was next to no grip and any attempts to fire from the sidecars were flawed as the rider would twirl the vehicle to gain grip.

Still moving in their formations, but hitting little due to their dancing quality, Mannock ordered them back en masse, all running as one towards through the night and into the forests. Their order to “Fix lamps” was given. He’d run an eventuality like this through his head many times. He was surprised they’d not been captured or killed yet. Goslin was not far off, but their luck so far had been incredible.

“Where the hell is she?!” Mannock hissed, looking for their comrade.

A “Here!” was drowned out by a growling, the bikes had gained something, either speed or grip was on their side, rounds began to plough through the ice, whip around their ears and cause impressions on their retina’s in the night light, their floodlit backdrop eating up their precious night vision as they about faced to check their enemy.

The girl was in no way kitted out for combat and simply given Goslin’s lasgun, his cells and told to do as they did. Kramus could hold him better now, but hoped to high hell they got no one else. Mannock took his gamble, they had to split up.

“Split up! Kramus, Mia, Osrin, Grest, Curtis; get Goslin back to the other side of this dump, follow the main corridor, it’s the widest, you can’t miss it. The rest of you, with me!” his biggest gamble was about to make or break them, this was becoming a pict-film like situation, it was almost comical.

Letting the light of the evacuating team fade, the remainders crept along, finding a number of ambush spots. Six bikes against five men. Their sharpshooter dulled him lamp, letting the light of the bikes guide him. The rest found crevices and divets to hide in. Listers only real option was to either mob them, or do something he’d seen before. A pierced flamer can would explode, he smiled underneath his beard. Broninsk the apt, cat like climber found his way to a pedestal, had certainly had to co-ordination to leapt onto a creeping bike, he only hope they dawdled. Palphrymand knelt with Mannock, ten or so metres away. The staggered positions were to keep from splitting up too far and Mannock thus knew where they were. Hopefully. Lamp packs winked showing their ambushes set.

The growling was getting louder, they were indeed dawdling. Broninsk unsheathed Trixie, smiling wickedly. A sight the enemy were glad they didn’t see. The bikes lamp illuminated little in the quartz formation, it only giving away the location of the bike. He’d have the last one, take them by surprise. Lister readied one of his cans, loosed the stopper for the promethium and held it in his biggest arm. He too could see the wimpy lamps and knew his timing was crictical. He lobbed the thing, the bikers thinking it was a water bottle, they halted their comrades in an effort to see if anything was behind it. Lister was, seeing the shadow of the can, a single lasbolt hit the thing and the explosion threw stars against his suddenly shut eyes. The heat wave was intense, melting ice on his front and causing his hair to frazzle. The middle bike was a torn mess, its occupants wounded but not dead. Whip cracks announced Warners participation. The last pair were attempting to ride on, picking up speed before a bat like figure fell against the fire light. A pair of screams and whimpering ended brutally, a sick snapping sound and a gurlging, the result of a serrated blade entering a lung .

“Mark positions!” came a bark, half heard amongst the crackling fire and the sound absorbing rock. Something was halting the effects, what it was, was unknown, after all blamed it on battle nerves.

Lamps lit them up and their concern was the remainders.

“That was all of them wasn’t it?” Warner’s question in his thick voice sounded like a premonition. No there was two more, when the hell were they?

They had known the Imperial plan. Several curses were spat and no order was given as they sprinted like maniacs, watching their way following the small prints in the snow and ice, before they were covered once more by snow or wind.

“Grest? Grest? Goslin, I hope you’ve enough to activate the vox.” Mannock gasped, his mouth dry and legs wet.

***

“Twirl the torniquet, lift it up, hold!” Kramus was directing his hired assistant, Mia, with treating the signaller whilst trying to activate the vox, remembering the range of the device.

It was apt timing as the crackling voice of their Sergeant came through.

“Mannock? What the hell’s going on? We heard that bang, what were you doing?”

Grest’s question wasn’t answered, instead replaced by a warning that another pair of bikes must have outflanked them and be heading for them. For a bunch of drunken idiots, the rebels knew what to do and when, given enough time.

He trusted his Sergeant, he’d served on the manufactorum shift with him, knew the man behind the kit; Grest had his comrades do as told.

“Contact front! Fifty metres, quarter right!” came the fire order from Curtis; they had indeed take another route through the quartz forest.

“Deliberate fire! Don’t waste what you don’t have.” Grest reloaded his own lasgun, they were indeed getting lower on ammo, the firefight having taken up enough cells to kill an ork clan.

Pot shots zipped across the ice, the prone figures aiming slightly in front of the riders. One of the bikes twirled in a pirrouette, landing upside down. It exploded in a flash of blue as either the fuel tank went up or a cooking grenade met its timer. The last of the bikes was finding its way now, the passenger able to fire with some effect, jamming the gun against the rim of the cart. Heads could merely go down and Kramus spat another curse as his combat smock was given a new button hole. Osrin’s bout of las punctured the front tyre, the bike lurched and yet still the rider tried to gain on them, his number two reloading. They wanted blood now. Another volley from the clean shaven charmer made the gunner buckle, blood pouring from a number of holes ranging from his head to his arm.

The rider looked behind and in front, seeing the now moving ambush team pouring on fire. The last thing he saw through tinted goggles, was a lasbolt. Warner was going to have to report this to the Captain. He simply had to be a ‘scope’, now.

“Waypoint thirteen, lets move!” Mannock was insistent, spitting on the ground and slugging half frozen water from his flask.

“Now?” came Goslin’s croaky voice.

“You should listen to this, Sergeant.” Grest handed him to vox headpiece.

“Mannock here.”

The voice on the other end was full of fury, annoyance and general hate for what had gone on. It hadn’t gone to plan. At all. The generator was still standing, not having overloaded yet and the fact that they’d been outwitted by convicts, drug-addicts and the few Shroud Defence Force troopers they could spare only furthered the man’s cause. Several “Yus sar’s.” Ended the conversation, before a new voice came on.

“Mannock, this is Colonel Hansk. Ready your squad for evac, I’m sending your Valkyrie in.”

“Now, sir?”

“Yes now. I’m not losing a man to drunks, dregs and drug-addicts. Oh and Mannock, from this moment on you are all reciepents of The Ribbon Intrinsic.”

“Yes sir. Thank you sir.”
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